Next to Normal

If we’re not going to talk about mental illness, does it help if we sing about it?

By Andrew Andrews

Beth Kirkpatrick, Kylan Ross Gabe Belyeu in Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s Next to Normal, directed by John Saunders with music direction by Eric Shorey at the Mac-Haydn Theatre. Original photos by Ann Kielbasa.

Diana Goodman, a middle-aged American woman, suffers a from Bipolar disorder that causes her to hallucinate about her teenage son, who actually died about seventeen years earlier at the age of only eight months old.

Her husband, Dan, and their living teenage daughter, Natalie, are trying to hold it together, but Diana’s disinterest in both of them makes it difficult to sustain a normal life.

When psychopharmacological treatment from her current doctor proves increasingly ineffective, Dan convinces Diana to try a new doctor, Doctor Madden, recommended by three different women at Dan’s workplace.

At her first visit, Diana hallucinates that Doctor Madden is a “scary rock star,” but gradually, his new treatment plan appears to help her make progress… until it tragically doesn’t.

Andrew Burton Kelley (not shown) joins Kirkpatrick, Eric Van Tielen, and Amber Mawande-Spytek to complete the cast. The creative team includes Emily Croome, Emma Cummings, Andrew Gmoser, Bethany Marx, David Tankersley, Nick Caburis, Caitlin Maxwell and April Gerbode.

I’m sorry to say that Next to Normal is my least-favorite of all of the musicals I’ve seen at Mac-Haydn.

It‘s not that there’s anything wrong with this specific production: on a set creatively-designed for its ever-eavesdropping characters, the cast belts out song-after-song with perfect orchestral accompaniment, between spats of compelling dialogue and gut-wrenching emotional turmoil.

The story itself is magnificent and totally worthy of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that it received (one of only ten musicals to accomplish such a feat). But IMHO, the music and lyrics don’t come anywhere close to deserving the Tony Award for Best Original Score that the Broadway premiere was also gifted in 2009.

Maybe I just don't care for rock musicals—after all, I’m one of those people who simply can’t understand why others think so highly of Rent—but just like my recent experience at Love Quirks, I found myself lamenting every one of the harsh, (hopefully) forgettable songs presented on the stage.

To be fair, I attended this performance with three friends who do appreciate Rent: one of them agrees with my rating; the other two enjoyed this show more. Go figure.

3

Andrew Andrews attended Next to Normal at Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham on Saturday, August 6, 2022 @ 4:00pm to write this review.